How to ‘hygge’ your workplace

October 26th 2016 / Anna Hunter / 1 comment

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With the clocks going back imminently, there’s no better time to bring a bit of Scandi cosiness into the office. Here’s how to ‘hygge’ your working day, from morning commute to home time

The world is seriously hygge happy of late; the Scandinavian phenomenon of ‘taking pleasure from soothing things’ (concrete definitions abound) is seemingly influencing everything from our home décor to how we spend our weekends, but while hygge has floated harmoniously into our homes, can it really make for a more relaxed, productive workplace? The Danes seem to think so, as data collected by Copenhagen’s Happiness Research Institute reveals that 78% of Danish workers value a safe, cosy and casual atmosphere in the office, and they agree that the concept of hygge should be in evidence in the office. Before you get your sleeping bag out al desko, we sat down for a very hyggeligt cup of coffee with author and CEO of the Happiness Research Institute Meik Wiking to nail down how applying the principles of hygge could improve working life. Do remember to check your workplace policy on candles to avoid a very un-hyggeligt confrontation before you begin…

Hygge in action

“Hygge definitely manifests itself in the offices of Copenhagen, and in Denmark in general. In our offices we have sofas and comfy chairs where we read. If I’ve got a long report to go through I may as well read it somewhere comfortable, rather than sat at my desk. There’s art on the walls; it’s rare to have an office that’s sterile and white. Of course they exist, but it’s not the norm. In our office we’ve got candles, and I know others do too. All of the above is symbolic of hygge.”

Badger your boss to get rid of the strip lighting, place some strategic low lamps around the place and place an order for some cushy chairs and you’re halfway there. If management aren’t keen to redecorate, you can make hygge a more ‘local’ experience…

Hygge starts at home

If you’re going to be sat at your desk for prolonged amounts of time, you may as well make your desk space as warm and welcoming as possible. We’re not talking doormats and fireplaces, just a little something that makes you feel happy, centred and calm.

“In Denmark there’s often a lot of individuality as to how people decorate their desk space. We’d consider having shut-off cubicles very un-hygge. They seem more like cells than anything else. If you do have one, however, you’d try to decorate it in a hyggeligt manner. I’m sure there are many fire regulations and clear desk policies, but you do what you can!”

Tellingly, according to Meik, workers in Denmark also dress more casually and for comfort rather than corporate approval. Clearly greying joggers aren’t necessarily office appropriate, but extricating yourself from a pencil shirt can prove remarkably freeing.

Make meetings hyggeligt

If you’re writing your bucket list as your weekly meeting drips by at a glacial pace, it’s time to hygge it up. Meik thinks that creating the right ambience is key to making a meeting interesting, effective and actually a pleasurable experience:

“Meetings are always more hyggeligt if there is something to eat, preferably cake! A meeting might also integrate other topics that don’t necessarily conform to conducting business. Lamps, candles and cosy lighting, rather than bright, white lights, can transform an environment from staid to stimulating. Those are the kind of ingredients you need- atmosphere, great lighting and a sense of equality. When you try to apply the same things that you apply at home to the office, it’ll be more hyggeligt. Obviously not to the same degree, but it makes a difference.”

Considering the number of people you actually need in any given meeting can also have a profound effect on how said meeting plays out, as Meik reveals:

“Hygge is suited to smaller groups of people because it’s based on a certain quality of conversation, and a group of ten, for instance, can mean that people end up without the opportunity to say something. A better atmosphere can be created with three or six people. It’s perfect for introverts and extroverts alike. It’s not draining.”

“Making a meeting more hyggeligt also has a lot to do with how you address people. We always use first names. When I was 16 I went to Australia, and that was the first time I used people’s surnames when addressing them. At school teachers were called by their first names. We talk to each other as equals from a young age.”

Which brings us to another underrated benefit of hygge heavy workplaces…

Hygge the hierarchy

Okay, hygge isn’t synonymous with world peace, but it’s giving it a bloody good stab, as Meik highlights:

“To have a truly hygge culture, you have to look at what kind of hierarchy you have. I think that the work culture in Denmark and in Scandinavia is less about hierarchy- organisations are quite flat in that sense. Equality is an integral part of hygge, nobody is better than anyone else. With a flatter structure, it’s easier to have a hyggeligt time than when you have a top-bottom way of working.”

“Gender and marriage equality come into this too. Happy communities are equal ones when you look at the statistics. Men are also much happier in societies where women have more rights, so equality is a huge happiness driver in that sense.”

Hygge your work-life balance

Ah the old work-life balance conundrum. It seems that many Scandinavians are beginning to crack that particular chestnut…

“A work-life balance is something that I think a lot of Danes take for granted. Your main quality of life comes from a better work-life balance. Of course you have management consultants and the like that work very long hours, but the norm in Copenhagen is 9pm-5pm.”

“If you’ve got kids, most people leave at 4pm to pick kids up. The hours are fewer but people are very efficient to get work done within them. There’s more flexibility, so yes you leave at 4pm, but if you have something to do before tomorrow, maybe you’ll put in some hours later. You’ll go home, have some dinner together, put the kids to bed and then maybe pick it up again if you really have to. I don’t mind when colleagues are my staff are in the office, I care about what they do. If you work better from home, do that. It’s about the end result, not the process.”

“This issue also depends on how you define work. Sure, we’re doing an interview now, but I think it’s kind of hyggeligt! We’re sipping coffee and having a good conversation about something that interests us. I could label that as work, or I could label that as enjoyment. At the weekend I like to read books about the field that I work in, so the boundaries blur there. I mean technically I probably put in around 80 hours a week (I talk about my work a lot!), but then I’d include meeting friends over burgers to discuss our work within that, and I’ll get insight into what makes my friends happy. I figure out the common denominators in happiness as a day job, so that’s what I love to explore. I see it as a work-life blend, rather than a work-life balance. You don’t necessarily have to be trapped in an office to progress professionally. I do a lot of travelling, which is work, but it’s fun too. I get to explore new cities and enjoy myself. I did some work last night, so a Sunday night, but then last week I took a few hours out of a working day to see an exhibition at The British Library that I’ve been wanting to go to for awhile. The work-life balance question can be very subjective, but you know when you’re achieving it.”

Hygge your lunch break

The notion of a lunch break may seem quaint or old-fashioned, but extricating yourself from your desk/ Daily Mail addiction could be one of the most constructive, hygge workplace moves you make. Meik is taking a line on UK lunch breaks, or lack thereof:

“We do need a lunch break shift in the UK. People would be more productive, I think, if they had a solid thirty minute break at least to focus on a meal and reenergise, rather than answering emails as they eat. There are studies to suggest this, but if it’s practically hard to achieve, start out small. Once a month get your team or company together for a lunch. Great things grow from small beginnings, and something like that could be the first step to changing the culture of a workplace. Plus, you can talk about things outside work, which is underrated in its importance when it comes to creating a caring environment.”

Regular, non-frantic lunch breaks could also have hyggeligt health benefits, as Meik implies:

“Mindful eating is a trend right now, and hygge relates to it. When you’re sat at the table with friends and colleagues, you pause naturally when you eat, and you don’t have your fork in your hand at all times. You’ll have a mouthful and chat, rather than shovel food in. Having a tradition of eating together is very helpful in this sense, making it a pause for enjoyment, and not a function to be rushed.”

Just don’t bring your phones along to your monthly work meets…

Hygge your tech

Hygge may be fluffy and friendly, but it doesn’t take to being sidelined by screens:

“Technology in general undermines the concept of hygge. I will always prefer writing notes in a book than on a tablet or phone. Of course we need technology, but when we’re having dinner with our family or chilling out with friends, we don’t. Even just one hour without constant exposure to screens and buzzing will improve our connections and keep us present.”

“On the flipside, technology can induce hygge, for example it is hyggeligt to watch a movie with your family. It’s just about monitoring how you’re using it. A colleague of mine has let us know that she has a no phone policy at home between 5pm-7pm. We know that we’re most welcome to call around those hours if we need to, but there’s a boundary there. There’s also a company in Germany that I know of that shuts down the email server after 5pm in the evening, so you can’t receive emails. It’s a long, slow process of change for most business, but the world won’t cave in if we aren’t getting emails all night.”

Hygge your commute

The tube/bus/train circus can be the hardest element of working life to hygge at all, but it can be done. Alternatively, job hunt in Denmark?!

“When we look at happiness you do have choices, but there are definitely elements that are determined and impacted by the policies that we live under and infrastructure of the places in which we live. For instance a two-hour daily commute means that you’ll have less time to exercise, to eat as a family etc. Some things you can change and some things you can’t. Interestingly the time of the day of the commute is the hours in which people report the lowest levels of happiness.”

“If there’s any way that you can change your commute, that can sometimes help. A friend of mine has altered his commute so that it’s technically longer, which sounds mad, but he doesn’t have to change trains. He has one stretch to enjoy a book, so he can get a bit of quality time there (...if he gets a seat of course). We know that people enjoy their commute more if they walk and/or cycle, even if their commute becomes longer. I’m not brave enough to cycle in London, but I cycle everywhere in Copenhagen, and most people bike to work there. I actually don’t have a car, because at the moment I don’t have a need for one. I’m lucky though; the great thing about Copenhagen is that the infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians is so great that we can easily build exercises into our daily routines that way. You bookend your day with activity, and that activity isn’t a hassle- it’s convenient. This way of life also benefits the environment, and noise pollution levels are lower for example. Of course if I lived here, I wouldn’t cycle, so my behaviour would change.”

Hygge hostility

A happy meal really is a thing, according to Meik:

“Approaching workplace conflict as you’d approach family conflict can be helpful. You can put an end to a chapter of tension to say ‘okay we’ve discussed this, we might discuss this another time, but let’s focus on what we have in common, and that despite our differences we can come to enjoy each other’s company’. This is a lot easier if you have relationships and a social fabric established in a company already, which can be achieved by activities such as eating together once a month or so as discussed above. Also, Scandinavian cultures are more consensus based than other communities. In general we want to find a solution that’s accepted by the majority, there’s not normally a ‘dominant force’. Focusing on resolution, rather than ‘winning’, dispels tension.”

Hygge isn’t hard to fit in

If your workplace is the antithesis of all things hyggeligt, don’t despair:

“If you work in a strict environment that’s not very flexible, you can still build hygge into your routine. Just ten minutes to build in an element of joy to your day will make a massive difference. Light a candle when you’re at home and have a tea of a hot toddy with a housemate or partner in a quiet corner. Ten minutes is all you need. Hygge is definitely a quality over quantity thing. Focus on atmosphere and togetherness over a grand gesture of hygge.”

Hygge your health

Danish pastries, cocoa and gathering to watch box sets may not seem glowingly virtuous from a health point of view, but don’t write hygge off as daily gluttony:

“I might have three pieces of cake a week, which could be more than the average Brit, but I walk everywhere, every day, so am restoring a bit of balance. It’s indulgence, but not mass consumption. A bit of high quality indulgence feels great, going all out on one day does not.”

“Exercise can be hygge, but fundamentally working out is not a hyggeligt activity. To make it more hyggeligt, you can run with friends, say, to catch up and chat about how things are going. There’s an enjoyment in seeing a friend and it’s fulfilling on many levels.”

“We’re currently expanding the notion of health and realising that health is more than the absence of physical sickness. A healthy mind and a healthy body work together. Mental health will be one the most expensive forms of disease to treat by 2020. There are a lot of causes and challenges where mental health is concerned, and hygge won’t cure depression any time soon, but it can help to reduce stress and to focus more on our wellbeing and the wellbeing of those around us. The concentration on enjoying the here and now can be helpful,and while it’s not going to solve mental health problems, it’s a positive foundation on which to base our lifestyles.”

Hygge doesn’t equate to high earning

Hygge homeware edits tend to imply that creating a hygge feel is a luxury confined to sleek, minimalist furniture, expensive scented candles and roaring designer fireplaces. Not so, says Meik:

“There’s a threshold as to when additional income won’t make a difference to your wellbeing. It’s a focus in the study of economics, but for the most part the more we have of something, the less pleasure we derive from it. For example this is our first cup of coffee, but we probably wouldn’t enjoy coffee number ten. The more money we get, the less return there is. The richer that we become, the wider the gap there is between wealth and wellbeing. A lot of countries are coming to realise that they’ve failed to convert wealth into wellbeing in this way. Once you get to a certain level financially, and have security in the areas of food, shelter and healthcare, other things matter more. A short commute and high quality relationships are, for instance, in reality far more valuable than a pay rise in some cases.”

“Hygge is for everyone- it’s not about buying the latest ‘hygge’ accessory. Togetherness and inexpensive activities are at its heart. If you walk into a restaurant with colleagues and it’s too expensive, just pull the hygge card and suggest somewhere more homey and cosy (also, cheaper). Plus, we have so many English words in our language so it’s time you took one from us.”

Find out more about all things hygge and happiness in Meik’s book- The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well, published by Penguin Life, £9.99

Follow Meik on Twitter @MeikWiking and Anna on Instagram @annyhunter


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  • Jo Kneale
  • October 27th 2016

I'm very lucky in that I work for my husband at Peter Kneale Solicitors. There's only him and me, so we can make the rules up about hygge to an extent. He lets me hygge my desk, I keep his files straight, we have #fridayhygge together on a Friday (duh) and my hours are flexible enough so that if I need to take the children somewhere or the guinea pigs to see the vet, I can ask and take the time off with no problem usually.
I'm also free to write my blog, https://howtohyggethebritishway.com/ and to run a Facebook group dedicated to hygge, https://www.facebook.com/groups/TheHyggeNook/. In 2 weeks we've got 88 members. I think there are a lot of people out there who are seeing a need for hygge, for balance and making work more enjoyable. And I think Meik has it right when he says that work and fun can be the same thing. Our #Fridayhygge is just coffee and a sandwich out but we very often sit and talk through the work we have to do in a hyggely place. It works well for us; he's the best boss I've ever had, and I'm learning to do things the way he likes them in work...

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